0.5/4, 1980s, Horror, Review, Wes Craven

Shocker

#23 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.

Wes Craven was at the point in his career when he should have been incapable of making movies this bad. Working regularly in and out of the studio system since the early 70s, almost twenty years, he has the technical skill and access to a craftsman talent pool large enough where the complex production process should be streamlined enough to where he can approach the actual production with a confidence that allows him to write with fewer compromises. Instead, the competent production highlights and underlines the inanity of the script, written by Craven, to the point that its complete lack of any real sense can be excused at any level. This film is incompetent, a pale imitation of Craven’s earlier A Nightmare on Elm Street.

When John Carpenter worked through part of his contract with Alive Films, he produced one polemic, They Live, and a dark fantasy horror film that had interesting questions at its core about the nature of evil, Prince of Darkness. What did Wes Craven do when he filled out the remainder of Carpenter’s contract with Alive Films? Given that level of freedom he tried to create another horror series about a serial killer who…I have little to no idea what this guy does. The rules around the whole thing are so undefined and ever-changing that it’s not clear whether Craven had any idea what he was doing.

Anyway, refusing to move beyond the use of dreams as a narrative mechanic, Craven has his main character Jonathan (Peter Berg) receive visions of the local serial killer Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) after Jonathan runs into the goalpost during a football practice. He watches as Pinker kills his adoptive mother, sister, and brother, unable to help them. One of the more curious parts about how the film opens is the length of time it takes for Jonathan to work with his adoptive father Lieutenant Don (Michael Murphy) to track down and capture Pinker. Instead of just using the deaths of his family as the motivating factor, Pinker sets out to track down and kill Jonathan’s girlfriend, Alison (Camille Cooper), as well, when the television blatantly announces that a minor, high school student is using his dreams to track down Pinker. Why would the police release this information? Oh, so the movie can happen, that’s why. The fact that Pinker has to kill, in two separate sequences, people close to Jonathan before he gets captured is really odd. It’s wildly inefficient and tells me that Craven was struggling to fill the length of a feature length screenplay and had no sense of how to structure a story.

Captured, Pinker gets the electric chair in record time, using some kind of ritual with a television and jumper cables right before that does…something. I dunno, makes him capable of jumping bodies? But only until after he’s dead? It’s nonsense. The electric chair goes off with many sparks (because that’s how they work, or whatever), and he starts body jumping from the female doctor (who had some dialogue about how the death penalty was bad that goes nowhere) to a police officer, all to track down Jonathan to kill him.

Now, one might ask why, over the several days that this chain of events takes place where Pinker keeps jumping from one body to another, running their energy down until the bodies die and he moves on to another one, does Pinker never possess Jonathan? The movie never answers that question. He just never does. The chase ends up culminating with Don getting possessed, the chase leading up into a television tower, and then Pinker leaving Don’s body (alive, for reasons) to become information over the television waves? This is nonsense that makes no sense.

The final confrontation of Jonathan jumping into the television as well to chase down Pinker, going from channel to channel is awful and nonsensical. If they’re just electronic signals, how do they interact with anyone on the TV, up to and including pre-recorded broadcasts? Craven had literally no idea what he was doing. There’s also some stuff about the power of love as protection born from Alison’s love of Jonathan and a heart-shaped necklace that doesn’t work.

Seriously, this movie is a joke. It’s not the work of someone who’d been working in horror for almost twenty years. This is the movie of an up and coming director who has to do the best with a terrible script he couldn’t change because of production deadlines. But Craven wrote this drivel.

If he hadn’t made The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 this would easily be his worst film up to this point, but as it is, at least Peter Berg gives a dedicated performance, Mitch Pileggi chews the scenery to little effect, and the production looks clean. At least with the later A Nightmare on Elm Street films there was a pretty consistent delivery of imaginative production design to look forward to. The ending here is just embarrassing and nonsensical, making all the narrative frustrations leading up to it not worthwhile in the least.

Rating: 0.5/4

8 thoughts on “Shocker”

  1. Wes Craven’s attempt to create a new horror franchise character thankfully failed.
    This movie is sub par trash. It might even have been intended to be normal trash, in a B-movie, grindhouse kind of way. But never underestimate Wes Craven’s ability to have a good idea but be unable to execute on it. He’s the George Lucas of horror.

    Mitch Pileggi makes no impression. Compare this to his work on the X Files, where he has personality, and you see such a big difference, you’d never believe it was him in this movie.

    I remember him selling his soul to some jive turkey demon (“Give it to me!” “You got it, baby!”) and I remember the Alice Cooper (?) theme song and something about him teleporting around via electrical lines and maybe blasting people with lightning?

    The movie makes no sense. On the one hand, the killer has to abide by the rules of electrical currents and wires and on the other hand he can…possess people. Which is a well known power of electricity……. Maybe that explains reality TV stars.

    This movie aspires to be cheap pulp but it instead never rises above forgettable pulp. Another waste of time, money and production talent.

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    1. It’s just further proof that A Nightmare on Elm Street was lightning in a bottle. This is effectively the same movie in the broad strokes, and it’s a miserable failure on every level. After his first few films, and especially the success of Nightmare that ended up pigeonholing him, it seems like he simply lost his interest in horror as a storytelling medium. And yet, that’s all he could get made.

      It’s almost enough to make you sorry for the guy.

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    2. Full disclosure: I’ve never seen this, and I’ve never really wanted to. But what you describe sounds like the screenwriting curse that really came into its own in the 80’s: “We have to have this happen, in order to get to the bit I really want to show.”

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